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I understand that being able to read, write and speak English is a requirement for an FAA Pilot Certificate. But why is that ability printed on said certificate under the “Limitations” section specifically?

Is the FAA is stating that I’m only allowed to operate an aircraft in English because they haven’t tested me in any other language? For instance, would it technically be a violation if I spoke French to Canadian ATC or Spanish to Mexican ATC?

Or is it just that there was nowhere more logical to put that text on the certificate, which they couldn’t change for some reason, and it isn’t actually any sort of limitation?

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It's an endorsement not a limitation. The FAA in 2008 added the English proficiency remark to meet ICAO standards (faa.gov):

FAA Registry began issuing all new certificates with this endorsement on February 11, 2008 [emphasis mine]

Example:

enter image description here
kevensaviationadventure.blogspot.com [cropped]

As to why it's under XIII Limitations, it's because section XIII in ICAO includes both limitations and endorsements:

XIII) Remarks, i.e. special endorsements relating to limitations and endorsements for privileges, including from 5 March 2008 an endorsement of language proficiency, and other information required in pursuance to Article 39 of the Chicago Convention;

— ICAO Annex 1 Personnel Licensing [emphasis mine]

Example:

enter image description here
imgur.com [cropped]


Note: On an FAA license, only "English Proficient" is allowed, i.e. other ICAO language levels won't appear under that section:

There are, however, long-standing FAA requirements for actual English proficiency pertaining to the basic eligibility for a U.S. airman certificate [...] The FAA is not changing its certification standard or basic process as to how our designated examiners and inspectors conduct FAA English proficiency and fluency eligibility evaluations.

— FAA InFO 08012

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    $\begingroup$ So the FAA should change the title of that section? $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Nov 14 '21 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ @StephenS: "XIII Remarks" would make it clearer I guess. $\endgroup$
    – ymb1
    Nov 14 '21 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ @ymb1 I am only an enthusiast and does not have a license (yet) but I do agree that it should be renamed to something like your suggestion. Also, perhaps, that change would require each limitation/endorsement to be marked as such to be less ambiguous. (Not that it isn't ambiguous and making OP question it already 😆) $\endgroup$
    – RisingSun
    Nov 15 '21 at 17:43
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It is an ICAO requirement for international operation:

Effective March 5, 2008, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requires the following certificate holders who operate internationally to have a certificate stating that the holder is proficient in the use of the English language:

  • Private, commercial, and airline transport pilots with powered aircraft ratings
  • Flight engineers and flight navigators
  • Control tower operators

Source

Technically this is an "Endorsement" and not a limitation, however if you are not English proficient this appears in the limitations section, so they are saying basically "No limitations on English proficiency".

See also FAA Advisory Circular AC 60-28B

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